We caught up with NearForm’s founder and CEO to talk disruption, open source, and how the global development community is directly supporting business transformation.
At a global level there’s been a huge shift. All the systems on which businesses have been built for thousands of years – the economic and legal and currency systems – have helped create big companies who are now being rapidly disrupted on all fronts. But the rate of change in the global economy, especially with cloud computing and the ability to accelerate scientific and technological development, means there’s a new cohort of companies with a different worldview. Their business playbook is different, and that’s terrifying for established businesses. Incumbent industry leaders have to shift their mindsets, processes and technologies to remain competitive and meet consumer demands. All of the legacy systems – and I’m not talking about IT systems here, but economic systems – that have been the strength of established businesses are now holding them back.
Financial institutions are just one example: once, their biggest competitors were other banks. Now, it's disruptive startups and even large tech companies who are offering financial services that lure customers away. These organizations operate in completely different ways to traditional banks, who could lose out not just on customers, but on staff. But they need the bright stars of the tech world to help them innovate and compete. What worked in the past is failing them. Agility, breaking down the silos, bringing their business leaders into the technical design of new products and features is the route to delivering the customer experience demanded by the market.
Print media is another example: print subscriptions are in freefall. Yet traditional media companies still get the largest share of their advertising revenue from traditional advertising in their print titles. The race is on to figure out how to flip that, and effectively monetize their digital properties. That’s a transformation we’re seeing up close from the in-depth work we’re doing with a number of media companies, like the New York Times and Condé Nast.
A good question for that enterprise to ask itself would be: Do we need to become more agile and ideate new ideas that we can bring to working concepts quickly? If the answer is yes, then there’s no doubt that the technology stack NearForm uses, such as Node.js, is the most effective way to rapidly build prototypes that scale. It’s true we’re known for our Node.js expertise – actually NearFormers wrote 30% of Node.js 10.0, more than staff from any other company – but we’re not just coders. We also really understand the business processes around transformation and the technology that powers it, including strong engagement with top management, Agile development methods, and very rapid iterations that demonstrate business value early. Having the right culture, the right mindset and an open approach is as important to successful digital transformation as having the right tech stack.
As for open source: it’s a good choice for transformation programs because it’s untethered to any single enterprise vendor. Look at the sheer numbers of developers solving problems in the open source community. It’s a legion of talent. Open source is a globally shared, instantly available public intellectual good that’s without boundaries. Through the power of open source many emerging technologies have been made more accessible, lowering the barriers to entry, and accelerating speed to market for software applications. Just look at artificial intelligence (AI); the likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM invested heavily in AI but by open sourcing their projects a whole wave of innovation has happened and commercial applications have become a reality.
Open source gives enterprises the ability to utilize a lot of existing art when it comes to creating new things.
There are very strong indicators around any open source modules you may be considering for your project: whether they have a healthy community of users, are frequently downloaded and frequently updated. But also, best practices have emerged around how to build open-source cloud-based applications in a robust way, and that’s the way organizations can de-risk. At NearForm we’ve developed a standard reference architecture for building web applications, and global enterprises are now committing to that going forward.
That’s a reason that enterprises choose NearForm: when it comes to open source, we are the safe pair of hands – the conduit that sits between their organization and the open source world that some people find scary. We make open source safe for enterprises.
We also completely believe in the open source community and its talent: last year we invested about €1.2 million in developers who are external to NearForm and are contributing to open source. There has been an absolute explosion of creative energy in the community, and today there are about 750,000 Node.js modules available.
The fact is that there are multibillion-dollar enterprises who’ve committed to open source and are drawing down these modules and deriving real business value from it. The big challenge, one which I do think is solvable, is how to capture some of that value and return it to the developers themselves.
I do, because the disruption and competition are only becoming more intense: organizations need to innovate and do so at speed, and that can only be delivered through the power of collaboration, code reuse and communities like the global open source community.
Also, the first major business transformation programs are showing results now. Trump talks about “the failing New York Times,” but actually, the company has shown it can survive the decline of print and is now turning a profit because it’s getting digital so right. These are the success stories that give established businesses not just hope, but the proof points that allow them to get their boards behind transformation initiatives. It’s an exciting time, because it means enterprises are open to the kind of creative thinking that allows them, and us, to build great new things.
Cian Ó Maidín is founder and CEO of NearForm. Connect with Cian on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/cianomaidin.
NearForm will be present at our CIO Event At Said Business School on Tuesday 19th March 2019. To learn more, contact GB Intelligence on 01633 749520 or at email@example.com.
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